Voices from Portman Architects: Irene Sourbeer

This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Portman Architects’ architects, designers, and others within the design collaborative about their career journey and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities to engage and inspire. Here we sit down with Irene Sourbeer, Senior Associate and Senior Project Manager.

You are finishing up the Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City, which is such an important project for the community and the industry. What does working on this project mean to you?

I vividly remember submitting a conceptual package on a late summer night in August 2018 and hoping that the project would pencil out. Three and a half years later, I’m here witnessing the building changing the skyline of downtown Salt Lake City. So much has occurred since then, and I can’t help but smile whenever I drive into the city from the Salt Lake City airport and see the project.

Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City is a special undertaking for me. I always want to work on a bigger and more complex project than my previous one. With this project, I could apply my previous experience and knowledge while challenging myself and helping further my career as an architect.

Working on this project means a couple of things to me. It reassured my passion as an architect despite the challenges associated with building projects. It also meant providing opportunities and a role in the project to younger team members, just like it gave me at one point in my career. I’m excited to think that the time spent on this project will be the foundation and experience one needs for their future work.

What are some of the challenges you faced while working on this project?

All projects always face challenges such as a site condition, which in this project’s case was a significant seismic zone, staying within budget or completing on time. In addition to those, this project faced a unique challenge due to a global pandemic. The pandemic changed how the architecture and consultant team worked during the design phase and impacted construction cost, labor force and material availability.

You earned your Bachelor of Science in Architecture and a Master’s in Architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology before settling into a role in Senior Project Management. What attracted you to this specialty?

A project management role was a goal and the next step in my architecture career. With my attraction to big-scale projects, I always enjoyed collaborating with all parties involved and learned about the power of teamwork early on in my career. When each team member works toward a common goal and supports a synergistic bond with each other, the outcome of such collaboration can be much greater than a team that does not have such a bond. Moreover, the process of getting to the finish line can be more enjoyable and have a positive impact on everyone in a team.

The project management position is attractive to me since the role can provide a platform to build a great team and result in great projects with that team. It takes understanding individual experiences, ability, and passion – knowing how each will fit in and perform – and creating a sharable goal for the team.

The number of women in architecture and construction has been on the rise. What do you think are some of the advantages of being a woman in the AEC industry?

There are no physical or social advantages or disadvantages associated with being a woman in the AEC industry. Architecture, Engineering and Construction has historically been male-dominated, but I truly believe we are past that history now. Looking back on my education and career, I believe that I earned experiences and opportunities due to my drive and ability – gender did not play any role in it.

One advantage I can think of for a woman in the AEC industry is psychological. The historic preconception of working in a male-dominated profession may inspire a woman to prevail and prove otherwise.

The AEC industry is embracing advancement for women. What advice would you give to a young woman entering the industry now?

My advice to anyone entering the industry is that your desire and ability should be the only limiting factors in what your career looks like. Gender advantages or disadvantages can only go so far nowadays and cannot surpass one’s true strength. Therefore, focus on what you can control and invest in your strength.